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Designing Games as Substitutionary for Play?

Started by Mark Johnson, August 08, 2003, 05:39:13 AM

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Mark Johnson

Quote from: In">Reading Games as Substitutionary for Play? M.J. Young
Some time back there was a discussion about the degree to which reading the rules of a game was part of play, in the sense that it was part of game prep. Yet it is also recognized that within the hobby there are many who buy and read game books with no expectation of play. Arguably, these people are not playing.

Yet it may be that they in some sense are pursuing that which they most enjoy from play. They are, by reading, exploring the setting and the system. Whether they lack fellow players who would also be interested in such an exploration, or are so voracious in their desire to so explore that they don't wish to do so through the slow method of actual play, it would seem that they have devoured all the setting and system details through reading, and apparently enjoyed it.

So I'm wondering whether reading game books and supplements is a sort of substitutionary simulationist play style.

For those who think that reading might be a style of play:  if this applies for reading then why not design?  

Is creation of system and setting also a simulationist exploration of system and setting or does there have to be something there to explore beforehand?  

If you replace every instance of the words "read" or "reading" with the words "design" or "designing" in the postings in the original thread, many of the arguments hold (both pro and con).


Walt Freitag

Since all the same lines of argument apply, I don't anticipate ending up with any more definitive answer than in the previous thread.

Let me also point out that even though the same lines of argument apply, there's no guarantee that the two questions should have the same answer.

My opinion is that designing could provide a more thorough substitute for play than reading can. Designing, especially designing system, requires imagining actual play, repeatedly and under every variation considered in the course of the design process. Reading does not require explicit imagining of actual play (though of course it doesn't rule it out either). Designing past a certain point also requires play-testing, which unless it's conducted entirely by others (a rarity), is actual play for the designer.

Whether designers actually do design as a substitute for play is an entirely different question, and probably unanswerable. Sometimes I read books. Sometimes I have sex. I enjoy both (though never both at once). If I did less of either one, I'd probably end up doing a bit more of the other. But does that make either one a substitute for the other?

- Walt

PS Could people please use words that are substitutionary for "substitutionary" so that my eyeballs will stop bleeding?
Wandering in the diasporosphere


The word is "substitute."  "Surrogate" might also be a good choice.  "Designing games as a substitute for playing" is perfectly grammatical.  "Substitutionary" doesn't appear in my dictionaries.

I have to weigh in on the no side.  Game designers I know play quite a bit.  From personal experinece, I know my urge to design comes from a yearning to fill a vision - usually of some sort of ideal play experience.  That doesn't stop me from pursuing play experiences every week in addition.
- Alan

A Writer's Blog:

Ron Edwards


As with all of the threads about reading, I want to emphasize that we are not talking about whether reading or design is a form of Simulationism. That is a false inference.

The question is whether some Simulationist priorities (probably a subset of the broad range of such priorities) may be satisfied by reading and/or design.

I really hope people will be careful about this point in the future, in this discussion and others.


Jack Aidley

I find your assumption that it is Simulationist priorities that are being addressed by designing games odd. I find the thrill of games design much closer to that of Gamist play than Simulationist. In that one is often (not always, but certainly often) attempting to overcome a given challenge (e.g. provide interesting alternatives in combat while avoiding having any one strategy dominate, or balance two different spell casters against one another).
- Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter


I think that in designing, as in reading, you can be satisfying itches from G, N or S. More importantly, I think you should be aware of those three stances when designing.

For example, in the medical drama RPG I'm working on, the central mechanic of card play is so "mechanical" that I initially struggled to make it less "gamey."

But the mechanic is driving the drama, and reproducing the world of TV Medical dramas. So there's, to my mind, no problem of letting the card game overtake the story or the world, because, as in Once Upon A Time, the cards are creating the story and the world in collaboratoin with the players creative interpretation.

So while I'm looking at the mechanics to prevent obvious or gross exploits of the numbers, I'm checking that the card play empowers players to address the premise ("Will working under extreme pressure make you or break you?") and simulate a "reality" recognisable from TV Dramas.
Pete Darby